details of interview
Role of the Interviewed: amateur football player
Type of radicalization: ethnic discrimination, social radicalization
Historical period collocation: 2014
Date/Country of the Interview: 19/09/2018, Greece
Interviewer: KEAN – Cell of Alternative Youth Activities
Have you witnessed or experienced personal situations of radicalization during your activity in sport organizations? What kind of radicalizations have you detected? (Gender, politics, religion, racism, crime, homophobia…)
I am coming from Albania and I have been living in Greece for ten years. My parents migrated from Albania to Greece and settled in Athens when I was 12 years old. At the age of 18, while I was at the 3rd and last grade of High School, I had a couple of bad experiences that made me feel marginalized and discriminated against in the country that I was expected to be integrated into its culture and society. Now I can tell that, back then these bad experiences along with the feelings of discrimination and marginalization made me adopt increasingly extreme social ideals and aspirations and it became too difficult for me to find any other beliefs reasonable.
Telling your story. What has happened? How has the story started?
When I was at the age of 18 and in the beginning of the school year, about to attend the 3rd and last grade of High School, my father got a new job so we had to move in another region, municipality of Athens. Consequently, I was also enrolled in another school. At my old school, I had never encountered any problem or difficulty, I had never been discriminated and I have the fondest memories. However, the first period in my new school proved to be completely different and difficult. The majority of my classmates were acting indifferent towards me, only talking to me during the lessons and when they were required to do so and never hanging with me during the breaks or after school. I was hanging out only with one guy from the boys in my class and two girls. These three out of my 26 classmates were the only ones who treated me like a friend and not differently from everyone else. They were obviously avoiding me, rarely replying to me when I was speaking or asking something, never choosing me as partner in school assignments, never inviting me in their birthday parties, they were always calling me using my ethnicity (Albanian) and not my name, keep making nasty comments about my ethnicity and that I was not belonging to Greece and I had to go back to my country and so many other things that I would prefer not to mention. This lasted for a long time.
How did you realize what was going on? What kind of signals could you detect? How do you explain radicalization, referring to your experience?
I started feeling discriminated, marginalized, isolated, not fitting in this school and in the Greek society, not belonging anywhere and that no one could understand me. I started having an aggressive behavior and avoiding almost everyone. I started thinking that it would be better to just hang out with people having the same migrant background like me, as they were the only ones who could understand me. Since in my school there weren’t a lot of kids coming from the same country as me, I started searching for communities and groups in order for me to get integrated. I met by chance a group of boys, older than me, who had graduated from high school and had the same origin as me. We were spending lots of time together; I had learned all about their families, their background, their secrets and we had long talks about the racist incidents they had also experienced. At some point, they told me that they will deliver justice and put them in their place, as no one had done this and that I just needed to say the names of the children. Despite the fact that they were planning mean, harmful things like attacking those children, I felt very good because I thought I was having people with common background, feelings and ideas, willing and ready to defend me.
In the meantime, our physical education teacher at school, during one of our gym classes, noticed – as he told me – my skills in football and told me that he found out that I am quite talented and good at playing football, so he proposed to me to join the school football team. I immediately accepted his offer but unfortunately the first day, the day of my introduction to the team, I realized that the team was composed by the majority of my classmates who were treating me badly. I still did not say anything but I also did not want to quit the team as I like very much football and I had always dreamt of belonging to a football team. By the time I entered the team their behavior began to change. They were treating me like a teammate and as a valuable player for the team. One day, I decided to make a conversation with them and clarify everything. They apologized to me for their behavior and bad comments and said that they hadn’t realized how badly they had hurt me.
I was feeling again that I belong somewhere but I couldn’t enjoy that as all I had on my mind was cutting off myself from this bad and dangerous group that I was engaged in my attempt to face discrimination and injustice. When I was bringing to my mind their words, I was feeling scared and that all these were wrong and nobody should got harmed. I sensed that the entire situation was getting out of control.
Have you tried to cope with this situation? What was possible to do? What have you done? Have you involved other people/organizations? Who was involved?
At first, I had the sense that nobody would understand my thoughts and feelings; I was feeling like a stranger so I did not want to discuss this issue with my teachers and the headmaster. I also did not say anything to my family or these 3 classmates with whom I used to hang out with. I was pretending that everything was fine and that I have no problem. But after, as I was too scared to face this group, I started gradually avoiding them in order not to have worrying incidents. At the same time, I also decided to speak to my family, say everything and ask for their advice.
After all this time, I am reconsidering whether I should have spoken with someone a lot earlier, before getting involved into that nasty group and explain the facts and ask for help and advice.
Did you feel you had the skills to manage this kind of situations? Which was the most difficult part of it? Have you had any form of support?
Of course I did not have the skills to manage a situation like that, and I feel grateful for my parents, who supported me more than enough when they found out what was going on. The most difficult part for me was when I realized that someone could have been seriously harmed in such a situation; it was the part that I decided to ask for my parents’ help. One also very difficult moment was when I had to narrate and explain everything to my parents. My introduction to the school’s football team was also a form of support for me, as I reconsidered the facts and I started feeling again included.
End of the story. How did the story end up? What have you learned from this personal experience? What would you say to people who are living similar situations?
I followed my parents’ advice and thankfully I managed to step away from that group of older kids who I strongly believe that are a bad influence. First of all, I learned that when we are not able to cope with a situation, the most right thing to do is to talk and ask for advice. I also learned that violence isn’t the way or the solution to fight against racism, discrimination and injustice. Last but not least, I experienced how sports contribute to inclusion and help people accept diversity and cultivate mutual respect. In my case football had worked as a common factor and united me with my classmates.
Nowadays, I am studying at University and I am still playing football with my fellow-students.